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The Personalised Nutrition Future

12 Aug 2021

6 min

There is currently a paradigm shift in the attitudes of consumers towards health and wellness, demonstrating a desire to be more proactive regarding their exercise and nutrition decisions. As a result, there is enthusiasm and growth for the nutrition markets that comprise “consumer health” and a resulting increase in the number of brands and products available that offer functional benefits.
 

The importance of education:

Whilst the landscape of available brands and products is now much larger, arguably consumers have never been more confused. My observation is that many consumers don’t know what to have, how much, and when.

Not least how this relates to them as individuals based on their biology, likes/dislikes, goals, behaviours, and lifestyle choices. As such, personalisation of diet and nutrition is seen as a primary enabler to growth, defining the nutrition industry now and in the future.

In 2020, UBS² estimated that the global personalised nutrition market will be worth $1.3bn by 2025, with a range of $0.8bn to $3.5bn by 2025 depending on the extent to which companies can address two key barriers; price point (too high) and evidence (a lack of). Longer term, they estimate the market could reach up to $64bn by 2040 (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The proposed size and growth of personalised nutrition (UBS Analysis)

UBS analysis graph for Perspective

It is important to recognise that personalised nutrition is already here and gaining traction. Only last year, Bayer acquired a majority stake in the vitamin start-up Care/of (valued at $225 million at the time) stating that they plan “…to grow the Care/of business across new channels, new categories, and new markets to deliver even more personalised nutrition”. But it really is just the start…according to the same UBS source,

Only 22% of consumers in the UK, Germany, and the US are aware of personalised nutrition. This leaves a massive upcoming opportunity for brands to educate consumers and gain market share.

Nick Morgan | Owner, MD & Consultant, Nutrition Integrated

One size does not fit all

Personalised nutrition can be defined³⁴ as “An approach that uses information on individual characteristics to develop targeted nutritional advice, products or services that enables individuals to achieve lasting dietary behaviour change that is beneficial to health”.

Currently, there are three basic approaches:

  • Stratified nutrition attempts to group individuals with shared characteristics (e.g., gender, pregnancy) and to deliver nutritional advice that is suited to each group.
  • Personalised nutrition goes one step further by attempting to deliver nutritional advice suited to each individual based on, predominantly, biological measures (e.g., phenotype).
  • Precision nutrition combines an individual’s genetic (biological), environmental and lifestyle information to deliver nutritional advice suited to each individual.

It is suggested that precision nutrition is the most valid approach⁵ on the basis that the inter-individual differences that separate most people are smaller than the day-to-day variance within each of us.

In other words, what makes us special regarding nutrition is not just who we are but what we do.

Nick Morgan | Owner, MD & Consultant, Nutrition Integrated

In 2016, the “food4me”⁶ project funded by the EU demonstrated that personalised nutrition advice delivered via the internet produced larger and more appropriate changes in dietary behaviour than a conventional approach. However, whilst the evidence may be positive, industry faces the issue of scalability, particularly regarding data collection, interpretation, and advice generation.


A complex process

Personalised nutrition is not simple. People don’t just differ genetically, (or physically and mentally for that matter) but also in terms of their knowledge, habits, preferences, in addition to the environment in which they live. We must also remember that advice given to one person does not always suit another, whilst the tone of voice and timing of the advice can also impact the potential to change behaviour.

It requires a good understanding of the individual from their biology to their lifestyle, in addition to knowledge of what drives decision making and behaviour change.

Nick Morgan | Owner, MD & Consultant, Nutrition Integrated

Today, personalised nutrition is delivered according to the process outlined in figure 2. It is based on two phases; inputs and engine (the collection and interpretation of data) and outputs and engagement (the plan, how it is ‘coached’ and how it is monitored). In terms of the collection of data it is important that it is accurate (peer reviewed) time-efficient and non-invasive whilst it also needs to demonstrate (conform) to data protection and regulation.

In terms of outputs, the ultimate test is to change behaviour. However, on this latter point it not yet clear how sensitive the models are to daily changes. Consumers want to know that their daily movements are considered - just like WAZE redirects you in traffic - your personalised ecosystem needs to redirect you based on whether you consume a product or not, exercise, or progress is faster/ slower than expected. This is the true test of any personalised nutrition company.


Personalised nutrition products and supplements

Whilst the nutrition industry is interested in the testing processes, sensor technology or dietary tracking apps, we are mainly focused on how brands and companies use personalised nutrition to enable better or more bespoke products or more informed product choices.

Figure 2. The conceptual approach to personalised nutrition

Flow chart from Perspective

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Currently, I have observed four approaches that brands take;

Your personalised product e.g., Sun Genomics

The holy grail approach whereby the product is developed entirely bespoke to the individual based on their data whether questionnaire response, blood, microbiome or DNA. It is therefore dependant on what can be tested, and personalised, not least the scalability of supply chain.

Young western man mixing powder sachet in a glass of water

Your personalised selection e.g., Nurish
 

This is where a brand, typically of VMS capability or origin, prescribes a selection of capsules/ tablets based on your individual data. Effectively, they have a selection of single ingredient (or combination) products which they tailor to you and provide in a personalised box.

Woman mindfully drinking mental wellbeing

Your personalised experience e.g., Myprotein

This can be any brand who effectively offers the consumer a wide range of products as part of a DTC ecommerce platform and tailors their choice through data informed navigation. For example, ‘shop by goal’, or dietary preference. It is normally based on 4-8 simple questions.

Green protein smoothie in blender

Your personalised lifestyle e.g., Tespo


This is the most holistic of propositions. It typically includes product and hardware together and is increasingly based on the delivery of food or drink formats. They are the propositions most likely to go mainstream as part of a consumer’s healthy lifestyle.

 

To date, personalised nutrition has predominantly focused on tailored food advice (what to eat or not eat) and/or dietary recommendations based on vitamin and mineral requirements. Anecdotally, this seems to result in capsules, tablets and beadlet based formats being the primary product formats.

Whilst there are a few personalised gummie brands available, it is not yet clear how viable or relevant propositions related to powders (protein) or bars (for example) may be. These formats are only just engaging with the concept of personalised nutrition.


A technological revolution

Personalised nutrition is often referred to in a futuristic sense, but it is important to remember that it isn’t new. Dieticians and nutritionists have been practising personalised nutrition for a long time when ‘coaching’ clients towards their goals. It just wasn’t accessible to the majority based on time and/or price.

Advancements in technology have made personalised nutrition more accessible than ever,

Nick Morgan | Owner, MD & Consultant, Nutrition Integrated

and as such it is a primary strategy that enables the nutrition industry to overcome the barriers of education and relevance. However, beyond the challenges of scalability, price and evidence, we should not underestimate the importance of human interaction and therefore success for brands moving forward will be to understand how they can truly replicate the human approach to coaching.

Download this month's Perspective

This article was from the August edition of Perspective.

Expert

Nick Morgan

Owner, MD & Consultant, Nutrition Integrated

Nick works closely with companies in sport, active and lifestyle nutrition regarding their approach to innovation. Nick began his career as an exercise physiologist in elite sport before working at GSK and then subsequently establishing his own company in 2010. Nick’s primary focus is on how our understanding of science, the consumer and the market integrate to underpin business strategy and innovation. Most recently, this is done through data insights having started his own data company with a particular focus on protein bars and drinks.

The views expressed above are the opinion of the author, not those of Fonterra, and Fonterra is not responsible for any decisions taken in reliance on the same.

  • [1] As defined by Euromonitor, Vitamins & Dietary Supplements, Weight Mgt., OTC and Sports Nutrition
  • [2] UBS Analysis, Q Series. Future of Food III: Is personalised nutrition the next big disrupter (14th Jan 2020)
  • [3] Gibney M et al., Personalized nutrition: paving the way to better population health. In: Eggersdorfer Met al, eds. Good nutrition: perspectives for the 21st century. Karger Publishers, 2016: 235-48.
  • [4] Ordovas et al., 2018. Personalised nutrition and health. British Medical Journal, 361:k2173.
  • [5] Betts, J. A. and Gonzalez, J. T. (2016) British nutrition Foundation. Nutrition Bulletin. 41, 353-359
  • [6] https://www.food4me.org/

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